The contours of today’s Bill O’Reilly interview with President Obama were clear long before 4:30 p.m.: The Fox News star was going to push the commander in chief on his network’s coverage foci — Benghazi, the IRS and health-care reform. And President Obama was going to respond with some variation on the line he’s been pushing for some time — that some of his political problems are reducible to the portrait — the “caricature,” as he told the New Yorker — that Fox News itself presents to its viewers.
And so it went. O’Reilly wanted to know exactly how his aides characterized the Benghazi attack in the very moments after it occurred on Sept. 11, 2012. Was the president told right away that it was terrorism? Transcript:
O’Reilly: Your detractors believe that you did not tell the world it was a terror attack because your campaign didn’t want that out. That’s what they believe.
Obama: They believe it because folks like you are telling them that.
Compelling though that moment was, the interview’s highlight emerged early on, when O’Reilly went after Obama over the Healthcare.gov rollout. And accountability. Again, to the transcript:
O’Reilly: Why didn’t you fire [HHS Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius, the secretary in charge of this, because, I mean, she had to know after all those years and all that money that it wasn’t going to work?
Obama: You know, my main priority right now is making sure that it delivers for the American people, and…
O’Reilly: You’re not going to answer that?
Obama: What we ended up doing is, we’ve got 3 million people signed up so far. We’re about a month behind where we anticipated we wanted to be. We’ve got over 6 million people who’ve signed up for Medicaid. We’ve got 3 million young people under the age of 26 who are signed up on their parents’ plan. And so what we’re constantly figuring out is how do we continue to improve it, how do we make sure that the folks who don’t have health insurance get health insurance and those who are underinsured are able to get better health insurance.
O’Reilly: I’m sure that the intent is noble, but I’m a taxpayer. And I’m paying Kathleen Sebelius’s salary and she screwed up. And you’re not holding her accountable.
Obama: Well, I promise you that we hold everybody up and down the line accountable…
The president prattled on for a second or two more, and O’Reilly was on to other topics. The interviewer could have asked the president how badly someone needs to mess things up to trigger dismissal. He pushed again and again on the Sebelius accountability question, and Obama parried with the skill of a guy who has sat for well upwards of 700 interviews since he took office. All that practice means that he’s probably not going to slip up, that he’s probably taken every question in the book, that he can use his charm to keep questioners from getting too meddlesome and that he’s probably not going to make a lot of news in a session with Bill O’Reilly.
Can’t fault the Fox Newser for not trying, however. If nothing else, he delivered on his commitment to Super Bowl Sunday, heading up an interview with a high entertainment quotient.